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<i>A New Day</i> Dawns in Las Vegas - 2003-03-31

Las Vegas, Nevada is known for its lavish stage shows with scantily-clad dancers and big name entertainers, huge casinos where the action never stops and other adult entertainment. But the city has been trying to change its image, and attract more families. There are new, child-friendly attractions, and new shows, catering to the entire family. The newest of those shows is the long anticipated 'A New Day,' featuring Celine Dion. The Canadian singer kicked off her three-year long Las Vegas run in March.

Over a year in the making, Celine Dion's show A New Day is big, even by Las Vegas standards. It's playing at Caesar's Palace in a specially built, 4,000-seat theater designed and named after Rome's Coliseum. The theatre alone cost $95 million. Pre-production expenses for the 90-minute show were an additional $30 million. Forty-eight dancers and an 11-piece band complement the star on the massive stage, which has one of the largest LCD video screens in the world as a backdrop.

With American soldiers fighting in Iraq, this might not seem like the best time to launch an elaborate new production and there was some serious discussion about delaying the opening. But the show went ahead as planned. Celine Dion, who turned 35 this past Sunday, March 30, tearfully spoke of the war twice in her first performance.

Afterwards, she acknowledged it is hard appearing on stage knowing that kids, some no older than her young son, are losing their parents to war. "I'm not going to get into too much politics here," she said. "But, I can assure you it's a hard thing for all of us to say to ourselves, 'Show time, ladies and gentlemen, show time.' Because I'm supporting the troops and just thinking as a mother, just thinking that some children have already lost their fathers and some more will do - lose their fathers and mothers. It kills me. And it's difficult when it's time for us to just do fantasy things on stage. It was hard; it will not get easier tomorrow. But I pray I'm not the only one. I pray for them. I support them. And I thank them."

Two-year-old Renee Charles is the main reason Celine Dion is in Las Vegas. She gave up touring three years ago to spend more time with her family. But doing a show in the same location for the next three years, instead of playing a different city each night, allows her to do that. She'll be on stage five evenings a week, and spend her days with family, in the home she and her husband purchased near Las Vegas.

Although positive about Celine Dion's singing, some early reviews are mixed on Director Franco Dragone, who is best known for creating shows for Cirque Du Soleil. But they both say that this show is a "work in progress" and many elements are subject to change. "A show has to progress, so I don't want that we stay. If we want to change a song, we have to be able to change a song. Yes, we want to be flexible. We worked up more than 21 songs. We have more than 21 songs already ready to be on stage. But for tonight, we chose only these songs," said Mr. Dragone.

Just before the opening performance, Sherry Preskar was one of hundreds of spectators eagerly waiting among the casino's slot machines and card tables, hoping to catch a glimpse of the celebrity guests walking by on the red carpet. She travelled to Las Vegas from Boston just to see the spectacle, which she hopes will be a change from what the city usually offers. "I think it's great. I think it's really a good idea for someone as famous as Celine to come here and do so something different," she said. "I think she's a really big singer so maybe it will be a lot better than all the other cheesy shows that you see in Las Vegas. I really think it'll be a big hit."

Among those hoping the show will be wildly successful is Debbie Munch, the Vice President of Public Relations for Park Place Entertainment, owners of Caesar's Palace. She says A New Day and the new theatre will help reinvigorate the property, which is one of the oldest Hotel-Casinos on the strip. "This is the rebirth of Caesar's Palace. In addition to the showroom, the Coliseum that has been built for A New Day, we are also opening a new celebrity chef restaurant; we're opening a new casual restaurant," said Ms. Munch. "There are a number of new attractions that are debuting in March along with the show. So, it's an opportunity for us to open our doors and re-introduce ourselves to loyal customers."

Whatever the future holds for Celine Dion's new Las Vegas adventure, its true success will only be foreseeable three months ahead. Like most other shows in this town, tickets for A New Day are only released in 90-day intervals. Nearly all the seats through June were sold-out months ago. Organizers will be using publicity garnered from the opening to help sell the next block of tickets, which are just now going on sale.

Also just now going on sale: Celine Dion's new album One Heart. She is hoping the publicity about her show's premiere will help the CD and the debut single, I Drove All Night.